Seed-bearing parts of plants are dried and stored in bags or
envelopes until we clean them, separating the seeds from the chaff. The
differences in seed structures are fascinating. Some, like the seeds (really
fruits) of cilantro and dill, sit on the ends of branches; those are easy.
Echinacea seeds resemble tiny hand-rolled cigaret butts hiding deep in the
center of the flower. They may shake out easily or we may need to liberate
them. The jet black seeds of tulsi (holy basil) are easily distinguished from
their chaff. We have no trouble locating seeds of hot peppers, but we need
gloves, masks, and frequent breaks to avoid discomfort in our noses and
throats. Sometimes it is not the seeds that hurt—it’s
our posture bending over the table. How about a higher stool? a lower chair?
switching from one to another? standing up?
There is a set of eight screens in graduated coarseness which we
use for some sorting. We do have to experiment and, yes, there is a learning
curve. Sometimes the chaff is pulverized, leaving the seeds on top of the
screen, and sometimes the larger seeds fall through the screen, leaving the
chaff on top. I can only distinguish zinnia seeds by touch—they
give a little resistance which the dry sepals do not. Are the seeds viable? We
hope so, but we don’t know. I presume when plump echinacea
seeds fall out easily that they are viable. When they are small or misshapen, I
wonder if they will germinate.
To be honest, on some days the task feels tedious, and I start thinking
about the Greek myth in which Aphrodite punished Psyche by making her sort
seeds. I do have a new appreciation for the work that goes into the packets of
seeds that we buy, even when those seeds are sorted by machine and not by hand.
The other day Sherri opened a packet that had a lot of extraneous stuff in it.
I said, “Does this mean we didn’t do a good job on
these last year?” She said, “No, they came this
way from the supplier.” Yes!!!
** John Peterson along with Sherri McCalla (Herb Garden curator), and Barry McCalla (Herb Garden volunteer) will be at Lichterman on Saturday, January 31 from 10am until 2pm for the popular Seed Swap. Admission is free.
By John Peterson
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We are located at:
750 Cherry Road
Memphis, TN 38117
(Between Park & Southern)